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Aboriginal Wheelchair Athlete Set to Burnish Career With Gold at Paralympic Games in London

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Richard Peter is hoping to finish off his international career with even more hardware than he already has—and he’s already toting plenty. Peter, a member of British Columbia's Cowichan Tribes, is a veteran on the Canadian national men's wheelchair basketball team.

He's in England preparing for this year's Paralympic Games, which will be staged August 29 through September 9 in London. As world attention winds down from the 2012 Summer Olympics, which ended on August 12, their host city has been busily preparing for yet another sports spectacular. For Peter, a Vancouver resident who will turn 40 the day after these games end, this will mark the swan song of his lengthy international career.

It will be Peter's fifth Paralympic Games. And he's already got three medals to show for his efforts. Peter helped Canada win gold at the 2000 and 2004 games, staged in Sydney, Australia and Athens, Greece, respectively. He was also a member of the Canadian squad that captured the silver medal at the 2008 Beijing Paralympics. Peter would love to conclude his hoops career with another performance, one that lands him and his teammates on the podium.

"That's what we're here for," he said in a phone interview from Sheffield, England, where the Canadian squad was conducting its final preparations before leaving for London on August 24. Peter's wife, Marni Abbott-Peter, is also in England hoping to win a medal. A former member of the Canadian women's wheelchair basketball team, she's now an assistant coach with the squad.

Peter is fairly confident the Paralympics will signify the end of his playing days on the international stage. He's been a member of the Canadian national team since 1994. "Mainly because my body is letting me know," he said about the primary reason he's retiring, adding that he has various nagging injuries that he's incurred in playing the sport.

During his distinguished career Peter has also competed in five world championships. He helped Canada win a global title in 2006. Plus, he also has three bronze medals from world tournaments.

In London, the Canadians will play five round-robin matches. They will begin the tournament on August 30 with a game against Japan. The Canadians' pool also includes Colombia, Germany, Great Britain and Poland. The other division features Australia, Italy, South Africa, Spain, Turkey and the United States.

The top four finishers in each pool advance to quarter-final action. Though Canada won the silver medal at the last Paralympics, they placed seventh at the last world championships, which were held in 2010 in Manchester, England.

"I think that's a bit deceiving," said Peter, who is the only aboriginal player in the Canadian club. "We finished seventh but we only lost one game, a quarter-final against Italy."

Canada has traditionally fared well against the Italians in international play.

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"They had one of their best games and we had one of our worst games," Peter said.

Before arriving in England, the Canadians competed in a four-nation tournament in Holland. They advanced to the final of that event, which was won by Germany. Turkey and host Holland also participated. If they play to their potential, Peter is confident the Canadians can win a medal in London. And the other teams to watch out for?

"The United States is always strong," he said. "Australia is a really good team. And as the hosts, Great Britain have been working hard the last few years to have a good team. But any team can come up and win it. From Europe there are a lot of teams that are really close to each other."

Peter is unsure whether he will continue to play wheelchair basketball, even recreationally, when he returns to his home province following the games.

"We'll wait and see," he said. "I don't know if I'll keep playing. Sometimes it's hard afterward to jump back down (and play at a lower level) when you've played at such a high level."

And Peter is not quite sure what direction his life will take in the near future. If possible, he might like to become a role model/speaker who works with various First Nations youth. Or he could choose to go back to school, perhaps to pursue an education that could evolve into a coaching position of some sort.

"People bug me about [getting into] coaching," he said, adding that he has plenty of international experience to draw upon should he choose to pursue that field. Besides being a member of the Canadian team for 18 years now, Peter has also toiled for professional squads overseas. He spent two seasons, from 2008 to 2010, with a German squad called RSV Lahn-Dill. And he played for an Italian club, Elecom Lottomatica Roma, during the 2010–11 campaign.

Peter has been using a wheelchair since age four, when he was run over by a school bus. He broke his spine in the accident, which paralyzed him from the waist down. But Peter didn't have an interest in participating in any sports until the age of 15, when a wheelchair basketball team held a demonstration of its sport at his high school.

Now that his wheelchair basketball career is winding down, Peter said he will continue to remain active. He plans on playing wheelchair tennis recreationally. Plus he'll be doing his share of venturing around with his handcycle.

"I live in Vancouver," he said. "So I'll be cruising around [renowned] Stanley Park."